Study Guide

Flare Death

By Mary Oliver

Death

Nothing lasts.
There is a graveyard where everything I am talking about is,
now. (3.1-3)

Well, that's blunt. Of course death (and loss) can come just as abruptly as the beginning of this section. Our speaker introduces this image of a graveyard here, which recurs throughout. But here's the question: is she talking about literal death here, or just the loss of things to time? After all, memories are dead, in a way, because they are stuck in the past.

I stood there once, on the green grass, scattering flowers. (3.4)

The image of the graveyard comes along with this image of standing among the graves, scattering flowers. We think it's our speaker's way of representing the time we spend thinking about and mourning what we've lost. We don't think our speaker is against this completely, but we're pretty sure she's against lingering on it for too long, when there's so much natural beauty to behold.

against its heat
against the beak of the crow (4.4-5)

Things don't look too good for this poor moth; it's facing pretty certain death. In one line, it's probably going to singe its wings against the lantern, and in the other it's on its way to becoming a tasty snack for a crow. But the speaker admires the way the moth keeps flapping its wings anyway. We guess it wouldn't mean much to be lively, feisty or brave if there were no death. The moth's resilience is something to be celebrated, according to the speaker.

I bury her
in a box
in the earth
and turn away. (5.10-13)

We think this image pretty well encapsulates what our speaker is saying about loss: she gives her mother the respect of a burial, but then moves on. She doesn't want to spend the rest of her life hanging around the graveyard. Fair enough, speaker. Fair enough.

May they sleep well. May they soften. (6.9)

Is there a life after death? Does "soften" just refer to decomposition? (Gross.) And what about that word sleep? Our speaker doesn't say a lot about life after death in this poem, but there are little hints. She mentions God in the first section, but in a pretty noncommittal way: the poem is not rain dropped from the purse of God. Then there's this line, which leaves the door cracked for some sort of existence after death (what's the point of wishing that they sleep well otherwise?). But then again, maybe it's just a saying. We're certainly not going to commit if she's not!

Rise up from the stump of sorrow, and be green also,
    like the diligent leaves. (12.9-10)

Moving from the dead stump to being green like the leaves seems to represent moving from death to life. Or moving from thoughts of what's been lost (the tree that used to be where the stump was) to taking part in the living world. (Green leaves are the live ones, after all!)

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...